Psychic TV merit a second entry here, because this is totally different in style and approach from Day 50.
I don’t know why I didn’t see this particular edition of The Tube, which might have been their only TV appearance until the infamous Dispatches episode a couple of years later. This tribute to Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones actually dented the UK charts, and marks an interesting stage in the band’s varied history.
My brother was a big Police fan, so I was used to hearing their songs. I didn’t fully appreciate the subject matter of this song when it first came out. It’s only in hindsight that I realised what a daring and controversial topic was under discussion.
Sting had been a teacher himself, and you have to wonder how much of the song is drawn from real life. When my cousin Adam was doing his teacher training a few years ago, his first day of classroom experience was with a group of female pupils in their mid-teens. At the end of one lesson, one of the girls handed him a piece of paper. Adam was horrified to discover it was her phone number. When he told me about it, I cautioned him to join a union straight away, just in case he found himself at the centre of unsavoury allegations in future. Life imitates art, doesn’t it?
Sting – bass,vocals; Andy Summers – guitar; Stewart Copeland – drums
When I was about sixteen I started learning the guitar. A lot of my friends played (some of them were very proficient), and I felt a bit left out. I never got very far with it, and haven’t played for years. Even then, the sort of music I was moving towards had left conventional instruments (like guitars) behind.
I still appreciated a good player, though. This extraordinary performance by the American jazz man Stanley Jordan, on Channel 4’s The Tube, blew my mind. He was only in his mid-twenties at the time – a few years older than us – and I don’t think any of us could believe it. The phone lines in Aberdare were red hot with people ringing each other and saying ‘Did you just see that guy?’ It’s amazing stuff.
Public Image Ltd were formed by John Lydon and his pal Jah Wobble after the acrimonious ending of the Sex Pistols. My cousin Julian (a year older than me) tried to turn me on to them, but I didn’t get their early stuff at the time. This song, recorded with a new group of musicians and released in 1983, was the one that showed me the door to PiL.
I’d already written quite a long introduction to this. Then Mr Bowie passed away suddenly, and everything I’d drafted became irrelevant among the reams of press coverage and megabytes of internet tributes.
Suffice it to say that this was the point in my life when David Bowie ceased to be just a name I’d heard from time to time, and became someone whose music was exciting, innovative, mysterious and utterly wonderful.
The video is extraordinary too, featuring the late Steve Strange (see Day 33) and some of the other Blitz Kids. The aftershocks of Punk were still rippling through youth culture, and whenever tectonic plates were moving, Mr Bowie was ahead of the curve.
This song represents a milestone in my musical education, and who better to teach you than one of the masters of British rock music? May you rest in peace, sir!
David Bowie – vocals, keyboards; Chuck Hammer – Roland GR500 guitar synth; Carlos Alomar – guitar; Andy Clark – synth; Roy Bittan – piano; George Murray – bass; Dennis Davis – drums
Here’s another one which is great fun. Alien Sex Fiend were one of the original Gothic Punk bands, back in the heyday of the Batcave club in London. I never went there, although I was in the right place at the right time. Who knows – I could have met my perfect girl there and never bothered to come back to Wales again. Parallel universes are great things, aren’t they?
Whereas most of the other Goth bands relied on fairly standard instrumentation, Alien Sex Fiend used synths, tape loops and treated instruments to carve out their distinctive sound. Combined with theatrical live shows, they were closer to the likes of Hawkwind or Gong than to their fellow Batcavers. This was their first single, and I think it’s one of the best records to have come out of the whole Goth scene.
Incidentally, the second episode of Torchwood (‘Day One’, written by Chris Chibnall) revolved around the hunt for an alien sex fiend roaming the streets of Cardiff, disguised as a teenage girl. Mere coincidence!
Nik Wade (Nik Fiend); Christine Wade (Mrs Fiend); David James (Yaxi Highrizer); Johnny Freshwater (Johnny Ha-Ha)
This is a throwback to my A levels, the period when I and a lot of my friends turned eighteen.
At the time it was something of a tradition to have one’s birthday party in Aberaman (now Aberdare) Rugby Club, on the edge of the town centre. A DJ would be hired for the evening, and as music videos were starting to come of age as well, some of the records would be accompanied by the videos, projected onto a big screen. This was one of them.
The ‘Thriller’ video had been very controversial when it was released. In the UK, Channel 4 showed it late at night because of its horrific content. It quickly assumed cult status, and became a regular fixture of the Rugby Club nights. Somewhat ironically, it shot itself in the foot. It’s a great dance record, but instead of grooving on down to it, everyone stood around and watched the video. It’s the only time I’ve ever bothered with anything involving zombies. It’s great fun, though.
Blondie were one of the handful of US bands I did enjoy listening to in the late 1970s and early 80s. They always seemed to have something interesting to offer, unlike so many of the American acts who just reworked old forms and never tried to push the envelope.
This isn’t the most representative track I could have chosen, but it still sounds great. It’s a neat blend of disco groove and punky attitude, with a nod to the new form of music (Hip-hop) which was coming out of New York at the time. (That form of music is inescapable today, and the art of melody writing seems to be under threat of extinction.) However, Blondie successfully hybridised Hip-hop with pop, and this is the result. It was the first record featuring rapping to reach Number 1 in the US charts, and paved the way for much that came later. Incidentally, it wasn’t until someone on the TV pointed it out a couple of years ago that I realised the title was a pun on ‘rap’. Clever, eh?
Deborah Harry – vocals; Clem Burke – drums; Jimmy Destri – electric keyboards; Nigel Harrison – bass; Frank Infante – guitar; Chris Stein – guitar, tympani; Tom Scott – sax
Here’s another band who always appealed to me from their rare appearances in the music papers, but it took me a while to acquire any of their records. When I eventually did hear them, it was via David Tibet’s compilation LP Devastate to Liberate, where their thrash metal reworking of the Residents’ song ‘Blue Rosebuds’ stood out like a sore wossnim. Luckily for me, the ever-reliable Rough Trade shop in Talbot Road, W11 was able to fill some gaps in my collection.
Shock Headed Peters was one of the many musical projects involving the Reading-born writer and multi-instrumentalist Karl Blake. He formed the band with Dave Cadbury-Knight and a flexible line-up of other musicians, none of whom are credited on the sleeve of this recording. (Their LP Not Born Beautiful came out at about the same time, so I’m assuming the line-up was the same: Karl Blake, Dave Cadbury-Knight, Ashley Wales, Clive ‘Tigger’ Glover and Mark Rowlatt.) The LP is still one of the most disturbing and profound records I’ve ever bought. The band came and went a couple of times, but Mr Blake continues to work with many of the biggest names on the UK alternative/underground scene.
This was released on one of their EPs. It owes much more to the John Cale arrangement than to Elvis’s original, and it’s almost heavy enough to cause a localised distortion in the space-time continuum. Wonderful stuff!
Soft Cell were another synth-based act who came about at the right time – the Punk explosion was igniting fires in all corners of the music scene.
Marc Almond and Dave Ball met as students in Leeds, and quickly scored a Number 1 hit with their cover of Gloria Jones’s Northern Soul classic ‘Tainted Love’ – the UK’s biggest-selling single of 1981. This came out the following February, and I rushed out to buy it straight away. It’s a classic of the genre. The melody line is deceptively simple, Marc’s voice isn’t always on target, and the lyrics are much darker than lot of the synth-pop of the time. David Gray’s totally unnecessary attempt at it two decades later somehow seemed to miss the point of it entirely.
Soft Cell bridged the gap between the New Romantics and the embryonic Goth scene, but they weren’t afraid to explore the seedy side of life. Their LPs were always much more adventurous than their singles might suggest, culminating with the glorious This Last Night in Sodom, after which they went their separate ways. Marc embarked on a successful solo career (see Day 5) which continues to this day. A friend of mine saw him in concert a couple of months ago, in fact. Long may he continue!